have to take me
Starsky woke up with a sense of urgency. Mindless of his or Hutch's nudity—or the way they were completely entwined around each other—Starsky bolted out of bed and dashed for the bathroom. He'd barely focused on the head when the floodgates opened and he vomited so violently into the bowl he saw stars. The powerful spasm hit again and again. He could taste steak, beer, champagne, and something bitter he couldn't identify. All of it sharp and spoiled as it rushed over his tongue. Soon, he was doubled over with dry heaves, moaning, down on one knee as if in prayer.
Worshipping at the shrine of the Great God of Porcelain, he thought, wearily. Didn't think we got that drunk last night.
A warm hand settled on his bare shoulder, and something cold pressed into his palm. Glass of water, he registered dimly.
Hutch's voice was ragged. "Drink it. It'll help."
Starsky gasped and gulped the water down, bringing it up moments later.
"Now, this," Hutch said.
Just another Starsky and Hutch comedy routine, he thought. We're worse than an old married couple. Hutch slapped the bottle of Pepto Bismol into his palm. Squeezing his eyes shut, Starsky downed half of it, then shuddered. Stuff tastes worse than come. He wondered where that thought came from. Must've been something one of his old girlfriends said. His stomach quieted, content to merely ache now. He sagged against the tub holding his head.
"You can't sit there on the cold tile," Hutch croaked, taking hold of his arm. "Come back to bed 'til your stomach settles."
Glancing up, he noticed a bruise near Hutch's navel. What kind of klutzy move did he make to earn that? It almost looked like a hickey. Dimly, Starsky wondered what happened to their pajama bottoms, or at least their briefs. They didn't normally sleep nude together. That almost made him laugh. It wasn't like they were in any shape to— He paused. To what? He couldn't think it through; it hurt too much.
"What the fuck happened last night?" he asked as Hutch led him back to bed, found him his pillow and covered him up. He was shivering now from the vomiting and felt ten degrees cooler. Hutch climbed in on the other side and pulled Starsky's spine against his warm front, rubbing his arms to chase the chill. "I feel like shit. And I never thought I'd say this, Hutch, but I'll never eat red meat again. I can still taste it comin' up. I got the worst taste in my mouth—"
"What do you remember?" Hutch asked noncommittally.
Starsky, still trembling, drew closer to Hutch's heated skin. "I remember bein' at Huggy's. I remember gettin' wasted." He managed a crooked smile. "An' I remember callin' Russo out. Can't believe that asshole tried to draw on us in a public place."
"What else?" Hutch urged.
Starsky's brain was cotton. "Huggy brought us home? I think it was two, three a.m.? The rest is cobwebs. I guess I blacked out."
Hutch sighed. "Huggy brought us home at ten. Someone slipped us a mickey. By the time we got here, we were totally stoned."
"Someone drugged us? Why?"
Hutch shook his head. "Damned if I know."
"Pretty stupid," Starsky grumbled. "Good thing we got friends like Huggy. Maybe someone wanted to roll us when we left."
"Yeah. We were pretty lucky," Hutch said wanly.
Starsky wondered if the drug could account for the odd dreams he'd had last night. His body felt drained, as if he'd fucked for hours, making him wonder if he'd ejaculated in his sleep. He kept dreaming about a beautiful—if flat-chested—blond, with sapphire eyes. Suddenly, something occurred to him.
His partner tensed against him.
"What'd'ya think was in that stuff? I mean—" This was no time to mince words. "Hutch, you okay?"
"No," he said stiffly, and now Starsky could hear the pain in his voice. "I'm hurtin'. It must've been partly narcotic. I felt it last night. And this morning—" He swallowed audibly. "Starsk—I've got the craving."
"Oh, no!" Starsky said bitterly. Wasn't this just like his partner? Nurses him through the pukes without saying a word, all the while he's fighting off his own private hell. He turned to face his friend, gathering him in his arms. "I'm here, babe. I won't let nothin' happen. We'll get through it. Just like we did before."
Hutch nodded, a tense, jerky motion. "It's not that bad. Not as bad as last time. Just an ache inside that won't quit. I'll probably be all right in a few days. Just—stay with me, will ya?"
"Where else would I go? Hey, Hutch?"
"Did we have clothes on when we got home?"
"Think so. We'll have to ask Huggy." The image of Huggy dragging home two nude cops was more than either of them could take, and they laughed feebly.
The jangling of the phone made both of them jump. Starsky snaked an arm out from under the covers to snag the receiver. "Yeah?"
"You both up?" Dobey's voice was oddly subdued. Starsky felt himself instantly alert.
"Yeah, we're here, Cap'n," Starsky confirmed. Something niggled at his mind, something about Dobey just assuming they were together—but hadn't they been constantly since the shooting? He brushed the concern aside. "We don't have to be in today 'til later—"
"Something's come up," Dobey insisted.
"If this is about Russo," Starsky began, prepared to argue.
"It's not about Russo," Dobey said. "I need you both in here, now." He didn't shout, didn't demand, just insisted.
"Cap, Hutch is feelin' kinda sick—"
"Right now, Starsky. Both of you. Ten minutes. Don't stop for coffee. Don't talk to anyone. Don't get the paper. Don't go to your lockers. Just come to my office. Understand?"
"Yes, sir," Starsky said, his own voice matching Dobey's somber one. He hung up the phone. "Somethin's wrong, Hutch. Somethin' bad. We gotta go in. Can you handle it?"
Hutch nodded as Starsky left the bed and started searching for clean clothes. "How do you know it's bad, Starsk?"
"Dobey never yelled, not once. No, 'get yer narrow butts in here.' No threats to bust us down to traffic. Somethin's goin' on."
Hutch sat on the edge of the bed looking miserable. He had blue circles under red-rimmed eyes. Running a hand through his hair, he said, "I got a feeling the price tag just got delivered."
The precinct looked nearly deserted, and that gave Starsky the jitters. The few people they ran into barely acknowledged them. Their own squadroom was abandoned, and that was too weird for words. The closer they got to Dobey's office, the more bizarro the whole thing seemed.
Starsky knocked lightly on Dobey's door, then stuck his head in, while Hutch waited behind him. The room was dim. "Cap?"
"Right here," Dobey said softly. The big man was standing at his window looking through slatted blinds that were nearly closed, blocking out the bright morning light.
They entered quietly, glancing at one another. Dobey didn't turn around. There was a thick envelope and a projector on his desk.
Starsky looked at Hutch, who eased himself into a chair by the desk. Hutch just shrugged. Starsky sat on the arm of Hutch's chair, hoping his physical presence might help shore up Hutch's flagging spirit. Starsky hoped this wouldn't take long. He wanted to get some decent food into Hutch and put him back to bed and keep watch—
Dobey finally turned to them. "Thanks for coming in so quickly. I—want you to watch this film—in private. I'll wait in the squadroom. When you're ready to talk, let me know."
They exchanged confused glances. Starsky said, "If this is a new case, wouldn't it be better if you stayed and explained—?"
Dobey cut him off. "Just watch the film, son. We'll discuss it when you're ready."
Then he left without another word.
They eyed each other and said together, "'Son?'"
"Oh, this must be a beaut!" Starsky said, eyeing the camera as if it were a poisonous snake. "I know he hates these things—God knows, I do, too—but I can't remember ever seein' him this rattled over evidence before."
"I've got a feeling we're not gonna need popcorn for this feature," Hutch agreed.
Starsky darkened the blinds, then turned the film on. As the leader fed through, he sat on the arm of Hutch's chair, still more concerned about his partner's physical condition than anything he was about to witness in this office.
That lasted about thirty seconds.
That's how long it took him to realize this film had been shot in his own bedroom last night. In the frame he could see part of the bedroom floor where his jeans lay in a bunch—precisely as he'd found them this morning. But most of the frame was more bed than bedroom. His bed. With him and Hutch in it. Doing things he simply could not believe.
In sixty seconds, he was gripping the chair to keep from falling off. In ninety seconds, he had to get off the chair and move away from his partner.
At the five-minute mark, he was as far away from Hutch as he could get, and there was no where else to go in the room. He was hugging himself without realizing it, his tender stomach rebelling as he watched himself engage in sex acts with his partner that his mind could not remember and would not accept.
He wanted to shout that those were actors who looked like them, but the diagonal scars riddling his back were plain even in the film's dim light. He watched himself seduce his best friend, overwhelm him, and then engage in the kind of lurid sex acts he would've gladly beaten Russo into the ground for implying.
The film wound on, as Hutch finally went after him in the bed, and then he and Hutch—he stared, his eyes swimming—he and Hutch were blowing each other, crazed with desire, hard as rocks and sucking like experienced cockhounds, as if they did this every night. He couldn't pull his eyes away, yet couldn't bear to watch. And when the inevitable happened, and he watched himself eagerly swallow Hutch's ejaculate, even as Hutch took his, he finally realized what that cloying, bitter taste had been in his mouth.
His stomach cried enough. Leaning over Dobey's trash can, he threw up Pepto Bismol and toothpaste. This time, Hutch didn't help him.
The end of the film flapped in the terrible silence until Hutch turned the machine off. Starsky took Dobey's trash can to his closet and closed it in there, then opened a window to let out the sour smell of his vomit. He sniffled and wiped his eyes, then glanced at the envelope sitting like a tarantula on Dobey's desk. As terrified as he was of that envelope, he would rather look there than at Hutch.
Flipping open the folder inside made a thick sheaf of eight by tens slide out. Lobby cards, he thought wildly. Him and Hutch in every conceivable position, pulled right off the film. Him and Hutch kissing. Him and Hutch stroking. His best friend getting him off—spectacularly. He thought for a moment that he might faint.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to look at the other man in the room, the other cop involved in this nightmare.
The sight tore his heart out.
Hutch was nearly in a fetal position in the chair, arms folded over his stomach, face almost skeletal, blue eyes gone colorless and unseeing. He was rocking in the chair like a stroke victim and, Starsky realized to his horror, moaning softly—a low keening noise that rattled him almost as much as what he'd just witnessed. What Hutch's expression said to him did not help any, not at all.
"You knew," Starsky said, struggling to keep his voice low, normal, reasonable. "You knew as soon as we woke up. You remembered."
He didn't want it to sound like an accusation, but it did. He couldn't help it. He felt shell shocked, like someone had just thrown a mortar at his feet. Or turned his perfectly ordered world completely upside down. Which they had.
"You remembered what happened last night," Starsky continued, unable to stop his mouth, "and you didn't tell me."
Hutch flinched as if he'd been slapped. "I'm sorry."
Starsky could barely hear what he said, but he could read his lips well enough.
"I'm sorry, Starsky. I prayed you would never remember. That it would just be one long black-out to you. I'm sorry."
"How could—?" Starsky had to bite his lip to keep his mouth shut. He hoped Hutch would think he was trying to say, How could this have happened, but the truth was he was on the verge of screaming, How could you have let this happen? It was unfair to lay that on Hutch, but he couldn't help it. Hutch remembered, and, irrationally, Starsky felt that since he did, Hutch somehow held the key to what had occurred. It wasn't fair, but it was his gut reaction, and all he could do was battle with it.
But Hutch knew him entirely too well. The blue eyes turned slate and, narrowing, focused on him. Hutch knew very well what Starsky had started to ask. In a low, deadly tone filled with old pain, Hutch laid it out. "I'll tell you how it happened. You wouldn't back off. You came onto me, and I couldn't say no to you."
No! Starsky thought. He held up both hands as if he could physically ward off the words—the words he'd brought on himself.
"I begged you not to," Hutch continued relentlessly, refusing to take the weight of responsibility for their mutual behavior. "I pleaded with you. But I loved you too much to turn you down. And you knew that. Once you touched me—kissed me—with that drug whistling through my veins, we were finished."
"Hutch, please," Starsky said miserably, bowing over Dobey's desk and the damning photos. His partner was only saying the truth. He'd watched himself on film stalk Hutch as if he'd been a Vegas showgirl—not his best friend—watched himself use all the smooth moves he'd practiced over years of seductions. As a lover, Starsky had never had any qualms about going for the heart. But his best friend—?
"You still can't remember?" Hutch asked incredulously.
Starsky shook his head, his self-control so tenuous he was terrified to speak. One wrong word, one wrong move, could shatter him.
"None of it?" Hutch pushed, clearly disbelieving. "Even after seeing this Reader's Digest condensed version of last night?"
Starsky felt as if he'd been punched in the heart. A fresh surge of panic swept over him. "What the hell did they leave out?"
"Plenty," Hutch said acidly. "We were at it for hours. Whatever they gave us prolonged it. This film has been edited to show only the most graphic details. They left out—" Hutch's voice cracked, and Starsky glanced up to see him roughly wipe tears from his face. "They left out—the caring. There's no sound, no pauses, no conversation—and we had plenty to say. Starsk, It wasn't just sex. Damn it, I mean—" He sucked in a deep breath, trying desperately to rein in his emotions. "We loved each other last night. We professed that love. We made commitments."
Hutch's face drew down in stern bitterness, "Fuck this! I can't believe I'm doin' this to myself. But I feel like I've been left at the altar by the one person I thought I knew, the one person I thought I could trust. But it was only the drug. I can see it in your face." Hutch turned his back.
"Hutch," Starsky began, not knowing what he could say that wouldn't make things worse.
"Vanessa really took me around the block," Hutch said, his voice chilling. "And Gillian—" he paused, sucked in a ragged breath, "—Gillian broke my heart. I've had women dump me, fuck over me, cheat on me, rob me, even try to get me killed. But it took my partner to really put it all on the line." Without looking at him, Hutch said, "Never before has anyone thrown up because I'd made love to them."
Starsky tried to imagine what kind of god had allowed him to survive Gunther's bullets only to face this pain.
Then Hutch clutched his middle and fought back a low groan as he doubled over in the chair. It was a cold slap in Starsky's face as he realized, The drug! He's still under its influence. He forced himself to take a step closer, then another, and tenuously draw closer. The five feet between them might've been miles. For the first time in their long partnership, Starsky had no idea how to help or comfort Hutch. He didn't dare touch him. He couldn't imagine what would happen if he did, how he'd feel, what it would be like to touch someone he'd been so intimate with, yet had no memory of that intimacy. And what would he do if he did remember?
"Hutch? You okay?" he said feebly into the space between them. Part of him ached to hold Hutch, rub his back, try to ease his hurt. Part of him feared he'd only be adding to it.
"Oh, yeah," Hutch murmured, with biting sarcasm. "I'm just fine." He took a shaky breath and pulled himself together.
"Hutch?" Starsky asked, unable to stop himself. He waited until Hutch's tortured eyes met his own worried ones. "Do you hate me?"
Hutch's expression melted. "Hate you? Oh, Starsky—" His blue eyes filled rapidly, and Hutch had to turn away.
Starsky did too, his own eyes burning with unshed tears. No, you can't hate me, even though you want to. The way I betrayed you, you should. I seduced you, swore I loved you, made you love me, then was repelled by the truth of that—and you still can't hate me. You poor sap. You still love me. What did I ever do to deserve that kind of devotion from you?
From the film he recalled the expression of sheer adoration on Hutch's face as Starsky put the moves on him. How had that happened? Because of the shooting, Starsky's near death, the months of caring and convalescence? Or had it always been there between them? Had it been latent there all these years with him in total denial because it didn't suit his image of himself as a man? He could hear Russo's taunts, and the murmured accusations of other cops, the odd looks, the snickers behind his and Hutch's backs. It went back years, even to the Academy. They'd always blown it off, confident in their own maleness, their own image of themselves. If other men were too insecure to enjoy the intense, personal kind of friendship he and Hutch had shared, that was their problem. Had they been lying to themselves all these years? His stomach threatened to rebel again.
"Hutch, please, just don't—don't hate me," Starsky mumbled to the desk, terrified that if he saw those pain-filled blue eyes he'd lose it completely and burst into sobs. "I don't know how I can make this right with you—but I'll die tryin'. You're my partner, my best friend—you didn't deserve this. I'm so sorry."
"Stop it," Hutch ordered, his voice shockingly clear. It made Starsky jump, and he turned. Hutch stood, pacing in a small space, careful not to intrude on Starsky's defined area. "Stop the noble martyr routine, I can't stand it. We gotta pull ourselves together and get our stories straight. We still gotta face Dobey."
"Dobey?" Starsky said stupidly, unable to fit anything else into this equation. It was all he could do to deal with this film, these stills—
"Snap out of it, Starsk! We're in Dobey's office, he called us in for the viewing, remember? This," his big hand—that hand that touched me, stroked me—indicated the film and photos, "this is only the tip of the iceberg. We're in trouble, big trouble, and no matter how this affects us personally, we'll only get through it as a team. Can we still do that? Or is it every man for himself? I gotta know that, now."
"You gotta ask me that?" Starsky said. He felt like his mouth was full of glue. It's worse than I thought. He doesn't trust me at all now.
"Yeah," Hutch said, nodding. He looked ten times worse than when they'd stepped in here. "I gotta ask that. I gotta know where you stand."
Starsky felt a surge of fury. "I stand with you, ya stupid bastard! You think I'm gonna treat you like some one night stand and forget everything that's gone down between us? Whatever happened last night, whatever I said, whether I remember it or not—don't you think that I meant it?"
They glared at each other. "How the hell would I know, Starsky?"
It took the fight out of him. Hutch couldn't know. How could he, when Starsky didn't know himself? "How—do you wanna deal with it?"
"Well, I think denial's pretty much out of the question," Hutch said with a trace of his old humor. "I think we need to find out what other surprises Dobey's got for us."
Starsky's knees went soft. "I—I don't know how much more—"
Hutch pointed a finger at him. "Oh, you'll handle it. You'll have to. We both will. We'll handle it like we've handled everything else."
But he couldn't say the words me and thee, their motto, their code. And neither could Starsky. Because now it implied something completely different.
Their eyes met in somber agreement, and Hutch picked up the phone to call Dobey in.
Captain Dobey sat at Hutch's desk and tried not to think of the chain of events that brought his two best detectives to the particular part of hell they stood in now. Maybe some of it was his fault. Maybe he should've seen the signs. Maybe he should've split them up.
The year before Starsky was shot, things had been strained between them. But since the shooting they were better than ever, as if they'd been reborn.
Was that when it started? he couldn't help wondering. Or had it started back in the Academy? And all the women, what was that, for appearances?
He remembered that joyful night in the hospital when Starsky was truly on the mend and Hutch had come back from San Francisco after busting Gunther. Hutch had climbed into bed with Starsky, giggling like a child. They seemed so innocent then. He ran a hand through his hair and tried, vainly, to stop thinking about it.
It didn't matter when or how or why. The only thing that mattered was finding out who did this to them, and coming up with a way to solve it. Bile rose in his churning gut as he realized for the thousandth time since the package had been delivered that there was no way to solve this. But he'd do what he could. He owed it to them.
The phone rang, startling him. He glanced at his watch. He'd expected them to need more time. He lifted the receiver.
"We're ready to talk, Captain," Hutch said into the phone, his voice soft, contained.
Dobey only nodded and stood, walking somberly into his office. The only thing he could ever remember that had been as bad was the death of John Blaine, another fine detective caught in a compromising situation. Only this one was worse. These men were still alive.
He opened his door quietly and surveyed the room. The film had been rewound and rethreaded, the pictures restacked neatly and put back in their folder. The most disturbing thing was the distance between the two men. In all the years they had worked for him, they'd never managed to be more than three feet apart in this room at any time. Now they were twice that. Worlds apart. Not a good start. And bound to get worse. His guilty knowledge tortured him, made his stomach churn sickly.
He drew himself up. He was the captain. His men looked to him for leadership. He owed that to them—and so much more.
"Cap'n," Hutchinson said softly, as Starsky eyed his partner from across the room, "we're sorry you had to deal with this. Near as Starsky and I can figure it, someone slipped us a mickey at Huggy's last night. Our memory of events—" Hutch glanced back at his partner—"is shaky at best. We were totaled. Huggy had to drive us home. This—" he indicated the film and pictures—"is damned embarrassing, but it was an isolated incident. It won't happen again. But we'll understand if you feel a need for disciplinary—"
Dobey's expression cut Hutch off in mid-stream. "Neither of you has a clue as to what this is all about, have you?" he said sternly. They glanced guiltily at each other, trying to gauge what to say. He'd always found that damned telepathy one of their most annoying traits.
"You think all I'm worried about is the embarrassment? That I called you in here for a scolding about your personal behavior?" He couldn't bring himself to yell at them, and that was odd enough. God knew he wanted to shake them senseless. But he could barely force himself to say what he had to.
"Let me tell you something," Dobey said in a nearly normal tone. "I worked side-by-side with John Blaine for many years. He was a fine detective and a fine man. When, during the investigation of his homicide, the department found out he was a closeted gay, I was the one who wouldn't let them bury him in obscurity. I made sure he got every honor due him, that his name was placed on the heroes' memorial, that he was afforded every respect. My opinion about John Blaine as a man, and a cop, didn't change one bit once I learned the truth about him. And don't either of you ever forget it."
They nodded their heads, worry and hesitancy in their every move.
"Now, I don't care if this—" he waved at the pictures and film, "has been going on for twenty-four hours or twelve years. I don't care. It's your business, long as you do your job, and you've done a damn sight more than that under me. You're the best detectives this precinct's ever turned out, maybe the best in the state."
Hutch visibly reddened from the praise, and Starsky dropped his eyes.
"But right now, you're actin' worse than the greenest rookies. You're stammering at me about the department's embarrassment and missing the whole damned picture. In over six years of working in this department, you've never stood this far apart in this office. You can barely look at each other the morning after—" he ran out of words and pointed to the film, "that. Stop acting like high school kids who went too far after the prom, and start acting like the seasoned cops you are. Damn it, you were set up! By experts. Who's after you and why should've been the first things on your mind."
They stared at each other dumbfounded. They hadn't gotten past self-recrimination yet. The remnants of color in Hutch's pasty face fled and he sagged into the nearest chair. But Starsky seemed rooted to his spot.
"What's the matter with you, man?" Dobey barked at Starsky. "Your partner looks like he's about to pass out. Get him some coffee."
Starsky acted like someone had just lit a bomb under him. "Right, Cap'n!" he answered smartly and nearly leaped over to the ever-present pot. Fixing a cup, he dropped down to one knee to hand it Hutch, checking his expression. "Hutch? You okay?"
Hutch shook his head, but took the cup. Tentatively, Starsky patted his partner's knee awkwardly, and Dobey wondered if that was the first time the normally affectionate Starsky had risked personal contact since they saw the film.
"What's the whole picture, Cap'n?" Hutch asked after draining half the cup.
"This package was delivered to my home at three a.m. To my home. When I realized what it was, I came in here to find packages of these photos in every officer's mailbox. They were all over the precinct. I had them confiscated, but they'd already been seen. By three thirty, I was getting calls from the district attorney, the mayor—and every paper in Los Angeles. They'd all gotten packages, too."
Starsky lost his balance at that point and sank to the floor at Hutch's feet. He moaned audibly and buried his head in his hands. Hutch touched him lightly, patting his shoulder.
"Then the calls from local TV stations came in, and the national wire services," Dobey continued. "Because you both work undercover, your personal phone numbers and addresses are classified, which kept the jackals from your door. But you've gone in one night from being the media darlings of LA to being a national scandal. It's a concentrated effort to destroy you, to remove you from the force and neutralize you. And you walked right into it."
"Gunther," Hutch whispered roughly.
"Got to be," Dobey agreed. "I called Huggy and he confirmed where you were staying. Once I was sure you were on your way in, I had the crime lab sweep your place, Starsky, then go to Hutch's place. They found the same cameras and transmitting equipment in both apartments. But not a single fingerprint. The cameras were strictly defense issue stuff. Highest technology."
"How else could they've gotten such good film with the low lighting?" Hutch murmured.
"I've got a lab technician waiting to take your blood," Dobey told them, "so we can try to determine what they gave you at Huggy's. There's no way of knowing whether there'll be after effects, but any residue can be used for evidence. Best as Huggy could figure out, his new bartender had to be involved. He thinks he must've coated your glasses with the stuff. Of course, by this morning, everything had been put through the dishwasher—and the bartender's gone to parts unknown."
Dobey sighed. "Huggy received a delivery at four. The pictures are all over the street."
Both cops looked beaten. It just about destroyed Dobey to do this, but in the long run, his brutal honesty was necessary. He coughed lightly. "I can't lie to you. Gunther's won this round. The damage has been done."
They looked at him expectantly.
"The mayor is calling for your immediate dismissal. I've refused him. But I'll have to suspend you—without pay—while the department investigates this."
"Suspend us?" Starsky said. "But Cap'n—if we're suspended—how will we investigate—?"
"You'll have to trust the department to do it, Starsky," Dobey told him. "I'm sorry."
"Starsk, can't you see what we're dealing with here?" Hutch said patiently. "Even if we can trace it back to Gunther, where will it get us? He's already in jail for life. We can't touch him for this. He could've tried to kill us again far easier than pulling off this set-up. This is the result he wanted. He's ruined us."
"Not yet," Dobey argued. They glanced at him without hope. "You still have your partnership. You still have each other. You've turned around the bleakest scenarios by depending on that. He'll win only if you let him destroy that. Don't let him!"
They exchanged a worried glance, then turned back to Dobey.
"Look," he reminded them, "I'm on your side. And I'll fight for you. I want you in this department for as long as you want the job. And I'll do everything in my power to get you back here. What you have to do is stick together, watch each other's backs, and be prepared for what could come down. It'll be bad. Real bad. But if you stick together, you can handle it. Until it's finally over, and you can get back to work."
"You really think that's gonna happen, Captain?" Hutch asked.
"I think it'll take awhile," Dobey admitted, "and I think we'll be swimming upstream. But, yes, if you stick it out, you'll be back here, exonerated, when this is over. I believe that."
"Never thought I'd call you a cock-eyed optimist, Cap," Starsky said wearily.
"Never mind what you feel like calling me, Starsky," Dobey growled. "Now—I've got to ask for your badges and your guns. Then you've got to clean out your desks and lockers. There may be hearings—"
"We know the drill, Captain," Hutch said, as he pulled his shield from his pocket.
Starsky had already laid his on the desk, then unholstered his gun. His body was coiled spring-tight. "What happened with Russo?"
Dobey glanced away, then finally met his piercing blue eyes. "He spent the night in the tank—but Huggy wouldn't press charges. He was fined and released. I've put a note in his file. But he'll be back on duty tonight."
Starsky actually laughed. "He tried to draw his weapon on us in a crowded bar, and he'll be back on duty tonight. While we, in the privacy of our home—"
"Starsk," Hutch said. The single admonition was enough to quiet Starsky.
"Where will you two be?" Dobey asked.
"Why do you need to know?" Starsky asked pointedly. "Are we under arrest, Captain? Maybe on a sodomy charge?"
Hutch looked at the ceiling, the raw pain in Starsky's voice visibly tearing into him. He clamped a hand on his friend's shoulder and propelled him to the door. "We'll be at my place, Captain. Call any time."
Dobey said after them, "Believe me, son—I'm hurting with you on this one."
Hutch nodded before leaving Dobey alone in the dim, quiet room.
Three men sat in the brilliantly colored Torino while a gray mist washed over a gray city. Yet, in the passenger's seat of the parked car, Hutch really felt as if he were sitting there completely alone.
"I don't know what to say," Huggy muttered softly from the back seat. "I feel like it's my fault. Gunther set you up and used me to deliver."
"No one's blamin' you," Starsky said.
"I'm blamin' me," Huggy insisted. "I hired Alphonse without checkin'. One good reference, took the brother in. Wined you and dined you in my establishment—saw how wasted you were and couldn't figure it out. Smart dude like me. Should'a stayed with you. Never would'a happened. They know what it was yet?"
"No," Hutch said, still feeling the hum. Wish I could get more. Just a taste to kill this ache. Just enough to function. He shuddered, and Starsky's eyes cut right to him, seeing it. They didn't speak. "Might know tomorrow." He scrubbed his face with his hands.
The blood tech from the crime lab wouldn't look them in the eye when she took their blood. They'd used to flirt with her; tease her about making her choose between them. Now she couldn't look at them. She was so nervous, she'd had to stick Starsky twice.
"I just don't know what to say," Huggy repeated mournfully.
They had called him from a phone booth, picked him up on the street. Huggy wanted them to come into the bar, but they couldn't.
"You could tell us you're still our friend," Starsky said into the quiet.
Hutch heard Huggy's breath catch sharp. "I can't b'lieve you askin' me that."
Starsky exhaled roughly. "We can't take anything for granted, Huggy." Starsky's blue eyes looked into the rear view mirror and met with Huggy's dark ones.
Hutch knew what Starsky meant. He could still see the obscene graffiti scrawled over their lockers. Put there by their brother cops. He'd never seen Starsky go pale before, but when he'd eyed the painted word COCKSUCKER spilling down his locker door in bright red, Hutch feared for a minute that Starsky might pass out. Hutch's own locker—decorated with the word FAGGOT—seemed almost benign in comparison.
"You been more than a friend to me, Starsky," Huggy reminded him. "All the years we've been down t'gether? You know my family, you've had holidays at my house. I know your family, I've eaten there. Long as I c'n remember, you been like a brother to me. When you introduced me to your partner, I knew he'd be my brother, too, 'cause he wouldn't be hangin' with you 'less he could cut it. Now, you gotta ask me this?" Huggy shook his head. "That hurts. But what's happened to you—at my place—hurts real bad, too. Since you gotta hear it, I gotta say it. You and Hutch, you'll always be my brothers. That's blood. Thicker than anything. Don't ever ask me that again."
"Okay," Starsky said with a smile. "I won't."
"What's the word?" Hutch asked. "On the street? 'Bout us?"
Huggy sat back, as if he wanted to disappear into the leather. "'Pends on who you talk to. Everybody's got a different slant. But ever'body knows. It's all out there, the whole thing. You're just—" He paused, frowning, as if searching for the kind of rabbit-out-of-the-hat solutions he was famous for, only to realize that this time he was fresh out of magic. "—Just gonna hafta weather it out."
"'Weather it out?'" Starsky said, as though that were the most incredible notion.
"Listen, Starsky," Huggy said impatiently, "next week the Towson twins are bound to throw another john out the winda and then people be talkin' 'bout that. Or a big score will get dumped overboard and no one will be able to connect. Or the President will have hemorrhoid surgery and that'll be the news of the hour. You just gotta stay cool and weather it out."
"That might be a little easier to do if we had a job," Hutch said.
"Last time we left the force," Starsky reminded them, "we didn't have much luck in becoming gainfully employed."
"We might be more open-minded now about that porn studio that offered us a gig last time," Hutch said, looking sideways at his partner. Starsky glared at him. "Okay, bad joke."
"Speakin' o' jobs," Huggy said off handedly, "I did hear from someone who's sympathetic to your—situation. I didn't know if I should even mention it, though."
They turned to him at the same time. "Hug," Starsky said impatiently, "in this entire city, there's maybe five people 'sympathetic to our situation.' We need all the allies we can get."
Huggy wet his lips. "I heard from Sugar over at the Green Parrot—"
They sighed and turned back to the front.
Sugar was the stage name of a transvestite entertainer at a well-known gay bar. Starsky and Hutch—and Huggy—briefly worked undercover there while trying to solve John Blaine's murder.
"You wanna hear the rest of this?" Huggy said irritably.
Hutch saw Starsky's jaw set, but even so, he said, "Sure. Let's hear it."
"Sugar talked to the owner 'bout what happened to you guys. She's outraged at the way you're being treated by the city."
"Nobody does outrage like Sugar," Hutch admitted. He could see her confronting the mayor as Bette Davis in a Jezebel rage. This place is such a dump!
"She talked to the owner. They need a bartender and a bouncer for Thursdays through Sundays. The pay is pretty good, and the bartender gets tips."
"I bet," Starsky said glumly.
"It'll pay the rent and gas money for this tank," Huggy reminded them, "which could give you the freedom to do your po-lice thing the rest of the time. Besides—at the Green Parrot you'll at least be socializing with people who aren't going to judge you for an evening's indiscretion."
The words hung there in the car. Finally, Starsky asked, "That what you think this was, Huggy? An 'evening's indiscretion'?"
"Starsky," he said wearily, "in the first place, you gotta stop carin' 'bout what anybody else thinks. If you don't, you're gonna go crazy—and for you, m'man, that is a short trip. In the second place—I knew the two of you loved each other the first day I met you. Whether you've been celebratin' that love all these years, or just tripped over it the other night, makes no never mind to me. But it clearly does to you. And that's sad. Lot of us go through life searchin' high and low for someone—anyone—to love. And here be you two white boys wastin' all this precious time, takin' each other for granted."
He left the car. Leaning down on Hutch's window, he said, "What do I say to Sugar?"
"Nothing," Hutch said. "We'll think about it. We'll call you."
Huggy reached in, slapped their palms, and strolled back through the drizzle to his bar.
When Starsky pulled the Torino in front of his own apartment, Hutch realized they'd been away from it for less than five hours. It seemed more like centuries since they'd left. They'd been different men then. Though Hutch had held his guilty knowledge in silence, he never foresaw the events unfolding around them. On the floor of the car were a half-dozen newspapers with their pictures on the front page with lurid headlines about the "gay cop sex affair." Hutch would have to call his family. Starsky hadn't faced that fact, acting as if the same wire services didn't go as far as New York.
They sat in the car without speaking, until finally Hutch said, "You want to stay here tonight? By yourself? I can catch a cab—?" It was all just words. He didn't really know what they meant, or why he was saying them. He had no direction now. Well, maybe one.
Starsky wet his mouth, and Hutch had to look away when he did. "Forget it. I'm not leavin' you alone. You're strung out and you don't even know it. You've been getting whiter by the hour. You need food and twelve hours sleep, and that's what you're gonna get. But—I need a change of clothes and some other stuff, so I thought I'd come by and get it now. Then we'll head for Venice Place. Besides—isn't that where you told Dobey we'd be?"
Hutch nodded absently. Sounded like a plan. What time was it in Minnesota? They sat there for a long time, until Hutch finally looked at Starsky. "You gonna get your stuff? Need help?"
Starsky's jaw was working. He didn't look at Hutch. "I—uh—I—" He sighed and tried again, finally whispering. "I can't go up there."
Oh. Starsky couldn't even bring himself to look at the scene of the crime. Hutch's insides twisted tighter. Okay. He'd deal with it. He rubbed his face again. "Your bag still in the hall closet?"
"Want something to read?"
He shook his head no.
"Okay, I'll only be a minute." Hutch left the car, digging in his pocket for the keys. Entering the apartment, he tried to ignore the fingerprint dust and other traces of the crime lab's perusal. It was just Starsky's place, where he spent fifty percent of his off-duty time. Hutch went to the closet, pulled out Starsky's sports bag, stuffed some shirts in, a couple of pairs of jeans, then moved into the bedroom for fresh underwear.
He went straight to the dresser, pulled out briefs and undershirts, socks and grooming essentials, and finally zipped up the bag when it was comfortably full. Turning, he came face-to-face with the bed.
It looked just as it had when they'd left it, only now it wasn't warm anymore. He could still make out the outline where he and Starsky had lain together, belly to back like spoons.
Where we loved together.
He tried to look at it like a cop, like the cops who had gathered evidence. He looked up at the mirror he'd always hated, the mirror where he'd watched his best friend perform acts of sex—and love—with Hutch that had burned themselves into his memory and his heart and ruined his life, possibly forever. He found the tiny place on the mirror's frame where the minuscule camera had been secreted, like a malignant insect spinning its web. He looked at it dispassionately with a cop's eye for detail for at least a minute.
Then he stared at the mattress again, with the pale sheets and bright covers all askew. He touched the pillows, touched the sheets, but not with the hands of a cop—with the hands of someone who'd discovered love in this place—perhaps the truest love anyone might ever know. Discovered it and lost it all in the same day. He gathered up a pillow—Starsky's pillow—and pulled it to his face, inhaling the scent lingering there. Gillian's dream-like apparition had promised him that Starsky would always love him—but Gillian had lied to him before.
Then he buried his face in the pillow and wept, just for a minute, and mourned the love he feared he'd never know again. Finally, he sucked in a breath, wiped his eyes, picked up Starsky's bag and left the apartment.
Like his partner, he knew he'd never be able to set foot in this place again.
stomach, empty head